When I first heard our church was hosting the Family Life “Art of Marriage” conference, I felt annoyed because we couldn’t go. $50 registration when our budget is tight? Friday night and all day Saturday when we have a busy schedule and a long list of home projects? No childcare when we have a three-year-old and a nursing 7-month baby? Then I felt more annoyed because my husband Ben wanted to go. I explained to him all the reasons why it couldn’t work in this season of our lives, and the conversation ended.
Until my friend Naomi brought it up. She has kids our ages, but she was still going. She gave me some ideas on how I might make it work, and I asked Ben: “Do you really want to do this?” “Yes, let’s give it a try.” So that’s the first thing I learned from the “Art of Marriage” conference, before it even began. When my husband wants to do something to build our marriage, jump on board. Because, as Elizabeth Spence has reminded me through Warrior Wives, marriage is worth fighting for. Marriage is worth the work. The most important human relationship of my life does not grow by itself. Nurturing it is definitely worth the $50 registration fee, the weekend time commitment, the multiple attempts to find baby-sitting.
I knew all that, but the day of the conference, I was rethinking. A snowstorm was headed our way—what if our sitter couldn’t make it? Our baby hadn’t been sleeping well and I had a head cold—would I really be able to concentrate? Was this really worth the baby-sitting instructions, the bag of pumped breast milk, the carefully labeled meals for son and daughter, the messy house I knew we would come home to? So I didn’t sit down at the first session with the best attitude. As the video conference began with a short dramatization, a brief quotation from one of the speakers, another quotation unfolding across the screen, I waited for the real session to begin. A speaker standing behind a podium giving an hour-long lecture while I struggled to stay alert, right?
That first session was actually a bit disorienting, as I waited for the lecture that never came. It gradually dawned on me that the entire six-session conference would be like this. No segment seemed longer than two or three minutes, as poetry, text animation set to music, timed one-page assignments, and short dramas were interspersed with brief statements from their impressive lineup of speakers. Very unusual for a conference, but I loved it. I felt like the continual use of story and art really connected with a postmodern audience.
We were never left wondering, “What does this look like in real life?” because it was illustrated for us in a variety of different ways that inspired laughter, tears, and thoughtful silence in turn. And the conference kept my attention. Maybe I should be able to stay completely focused during an eighteen-point sermon, but these days I really can’t. This conference was perfect for my tired, distracted mommy brain. I can honestly say that my attention only drifted once for about ten seconds.
The rest of the time I was riveted. Having so many excellent speakers give short statements gave the conference a real potency, as if all their ideas had been distilled down to the most important. I left the conference feeling like I could watch the whole thing again (repeatedly) and gain more each time, which is great because I can — each attendee was given a code to watch the sessions free online.
We also came home with a 152-page book of conference material—beautiful enough to go on the coffee table (though ours contains some private notes so I think it will stay by our bed!), and thorough enough to include all the material from the conference and lots of supplementary text that Ben and I could spend our entire lives learning from.
As I turn the pages of this booklet now, I remember the six sessions of the conference:
The first session is called “Love Happens”—an introduction to God’s purpose and plan for marriage. On one page I scribbled, “Marriage requires work all the time—making sure my heart is in the right place. My marriage needs to tell the truth about God.” Next to my scribbling is a quote from Dave Harvey, author of When Sinners Say I Do: “Marriage is embedded in the culture as a gospel testimony that is always making statements. The only question is whether it’s a good statement or a bad one.” During this session we learned to receive our spouse as God’s gift to us and to focus on God being glorified in our marriage. The pages pose questions and leave room for me to write answers: “What are the top three difficulties or problems you’ve experienced since you’ve been married?” and “What are some of the qualities that first attracted you to your spouse?”
Next came “Love Fades”—recognizing our “natural drift to isolation” and overcoming the effects of sin on our marriage. The conference booklet quotes Intimate Allies: “We must never be naive enough to think of marriage as a safe harbor from the Fall …. The deepest struggles of life will occur in the most primary relationship affected by the Fall: marriage.” On one page I scribbled, “Fight for our marriage. Run to Jesus and put on the armor of God.” Another scribble paraphrases a speaker: “For a Christian couple to say they have ‘irreconcilable differences’ is an affront to the Gospel.”
Saturday morning started with “Love Dances”—exploring the equal value but different roles of the husband and wife in marriage. I really appreciated the analogy of dancing because Ben and I like to ballroom dance (though we’re not very good at it!). It’s true that the magic happens, and there’s a lot of artistic freedom for both of us, when he leads and I follow. During this session a number of women spoke about the wife’s role and what submission looks like, even if you’re a strong woman fully capable of leadership yourself.
Next came “Love Interrupted”—the conflict session! There was a lot of good counsel on the root causes of conflict and the importance of forgiveness, as well as practical tips on conflict resolution. The dramatizations of couples in conflict were especially helpful to me and Ben as we talked about this afterwards: “Remember how she said this? That’s exactly how I feel. And when he responded that way, it made her feel like ….”
After lunch, to make sure no one fell asleep in the comfortable early afternoon, was “Love Sizzles”—the sex session. Oh, my goodness. I’ve been frustrated before by how Christian teaching can treat sex with so many euphemisms or embarrassment. Let’s just say that was not a problem here. Pretty specific. And helpful. In addition to physical details, they discussed God’s design for sex, the importance of emotional connectedness, the tragedies of pornography and sexual abuse, and the foundation for a satisfying sex life. “Sex is like a thermometer in marriage, not a thermostat, in that it measures the health of your intimacy rather than sets it.”
The final session was “Love Always: Leaving a Lasting Legacy.” This conclusion inspired us to consider what kind of marriage we are demonstrating to our children, and what impact we will have on future generations. We were challenged to “live life as an ancestor”—to think about how our choices outlive us and become an inheritance to our children and their children after them. My marriage is bigger than my daily desires and frustrations. I want it to last a lifetime because I have a legacy to leave behind.
We came home tired late Saturday afternoon. My head cold was worse, the kids were fussy, the house was messy, the fridge was empty. Attending the conference certainly wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Worth it to find a two-page love letter Ben wrote to me. Worth it to look at each other over the chaos of kids and smile. Worth it to have a more common language as we worked through our next conflict. Marriage is always worth the time spent immersing your relationship in truth. It’s always worth the work.
Lisa Joy is a disciple of Christ, living in the Shenandoah Valley with her husband, son, and daughter, teaching part-time, homemaking, and blogging a little around the edges. (Find her at Eclectic where she writes about her thoughts on life, parenting, marriage and everything in between.)
This blog post first appeared on Warrior Wives and is reprinted here with permission.
What better time is there to help build stronger marriages than Valentine’s Day weekend? With The Art of Marriage video event kit you have everything you need to host your own Friday-Saturday event. Plus, RIGHT NOW FamilyLife has made it extra affordable with their offer for a free event kit with the purchase of five couple’s sets.
Found in: Marriage, Videos
Major Twentieth Century Writers
Writing Workshop II
THE ART OF RELATIONSHIP: Marriage, Education and Cross-cultural Communication
Professor Evergreen Keefer
Objectives: To introduce students to great writers of the twentieth and twenty first centuries in the genre of novels, plays and poetry. This semester focuses on the art of relationship, particularly in marriage, education and society. We use a cross-cultural approach, comparing American literature to Chinese, Brazilian, Egyptian, Moroccan, Turkish, French and British. Close textual analysis will focus on the art of dialogue, character description, depth, conflict, transformation and orchestration. Hopefully this will give students from all disciplines a better understanding of people, their relationships to themselves, each other and their comparative cultures, as well as a love of literature and a better understanding of the process and craft of great writing. The assignments are designed to develop critical skills, enhance understanding of The Other, inspire imagination and creative writing, and foster an appreciation for the travail of the authors.
Theme: The Art of Relationship: Education, Marriage and Cross-Cultural Communication
Requirements and Grading: 50% attendance and participation. 10 points for each of the five short essays interspersed throughout the semester on character description, conflict, transformation, memoir and cross-cultural understanding. Professor Keefer will do all the lectures so you just sit back, relax and enjoy the reading, act out scenes in class and do close textual analyses in groups.
Bring ethnic food--Chinese, French, Brazilian, North African, Middle Eastern, American-- to class to better savor the different cultures.
Each class will consist of readings from literature, discussion, lecture, and presentation of assignments. In addition each student must be prepared to read a poem of their choice aloud from the poetry anthology. These poetry readings will occur throughout the semester, so copy poems and be prepared to read them every week.
Anthology of Native American Poetry (in class)
The Human Stain (novel and film)
Becoming Madame Mao
Red Azalea (optional)
The Sand Child
This Blinding Absence of Light (optional)
My Name is Red (optional)
The Lesson (in class)
Oleanna (in class)
Viewing of Wag the Dog (in class)
The Cairo Trilogy
Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf (in class)
The Thief's Journal
Swann's Way (optional)
If you want to read ahead during break, may I suggest THE CAIRO TRILOGY, MY NAME IS RED, SNOW, AKHENATEN or SWANN'S WAY as these are the most difficult books. Don't worry about plays and poetry as we will cover them well during the semester.
September 11: Introductory Lecture. The 'isms' of twentieth century literary criticism: Marxisim, feminism, sexism, racism, fascism, communism, capitalism, role criticism, aesthetic criticism, deconstructionism, postmodernism etc.Cross-cultural analysis of literature by examining variables in Time, Space, Place, Humor/Satire, Sexual and Religious Taboos and Rituals, Political Censorship, Story Expectations--happy endings etc, Heroism, Levels of Didacticism, Realism and Naturalism, Simplicity/Complexity, Garbage, Geography. (Extrinsic elements.)All these topics can help you with your cross-cultural paper.Film of The Human Stain. Since the most 'ambitious' books are Cairo Trilogy, My Name is Red, and Swann's Way you can begin reading these now, but make sure you have read the novel or play for that week as well. I will also introduce Mahfouz so that each student can pick one of the following characters to follow through the 3 novels: Ahmed, the patriarch, his wife Amina, their children Fahmy, Yasin, Kamal, Khadija, Aisha, Zanuba, Zubayda or Jalila the whores, and perhaps some of the grandchildren or in-laws. In addition, someone can personify the alley or the rooftop or the mosque. As you read, make notes on your character. However, we will start the cross-cultural journey with America, Brazil, the Middle East and China.
September 18: Intrinsic Elements: Lecture on difference between Euro-American Aristotelian structure and Twentieth Century memoir style versus Joseph Campbell's Ordinary World/Special World circular paradigm using The Human Stain and The Alchemist as examples. Check screenwriting links. Examine Story, Structure, Characters, Narrative Style, Word Choice/Vocabulary including sentence structure, paragraph progression, word choice, similes, metaphors, alliteration, rhythm and orchestration. Break into small groups for close textual analysis.
September 25: Marxist Criticism and the Peking Revolutionary Opera. Mao's history, didactic literature, librettos of the Peking Revolutionary Opera. Read Becoming Madame Mao, Red Azalea is optional.
October 2: Cross-Cultural and historical literature. Tahar ben Jalloun combines the sociopolitical rage of Muslim post colonialists with a deep awareness of Islam, the beauty of North African images and the body/memoir and postmodern aesthetics of late twentieth century Paris. Discuss The Sand Child and This Blinding Absence of Light.Read aloud rough drafts of cross-cultural paper.You may use literary works from any two cultures and you do not have to use this reading list for the rough draft.3 page paper on some aspect of cross-cultural analysis, refering to both the intrinsic and extrinsic elements discussed in the intro lecture.
October 9: Descriptive techniques and narrative styles. Multiple narrators and recursive, linear and tandem competitive story lines. Lecture and discussion on My Name is Red and Snow.
October 16: Lecture on scene study, Secrets Lies Obstacles Wishes. Act aloud The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco. Lecture on Existentialism (Jean-Paul Sartre, the bourgeois marxist: Existentialism is a humanism, existence precedes essence (anti-platonic), man is the sum of his actions, responsible atheism, anguish and responsibility, the optimism embedded in nothingness, engaged literature, No Exit, philosophical books, and Albert Camus: Catholicism, agnosticism, the Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger) and Theatre of the Absurd (Ionesco, Genet and Beckett): absurdism, minimalism, deconstructing language, the loss of paradise, the ascent into nothingness, "La Chute de la Tradition Theatrale," the subject of Professor Keefer's thesis at the Sorbonne, Paris. Assignment Due: Describe a character of your choice from one of the novels we have read comparing them to someone you know, yourself or another character.
October 23: Act out Oleanna. Lecture on Mamet. Viewing of WAG THE DOG if there is time. Discussion of differences between screenwriting and playwriting. More work on character conflict and orchestration.
October 30: Character Transformation: Lecture on Naguib Mahfouz. Cairo Trilogy I Palace Walk.Act out Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. Discuss marital differences between the two cultures. Assignment Due: Write a dramatic scene with three characters from one of our plays or novels demonstrating principles of dramatic conflict and SLOW technique.
November 6: Palace of Desire. Akhenaten. Lecture on the clash between Islamic and Pharaonic Egypt. Discussion of Mahfouz so far.
November 13: Sugar Street. Assignment Due: 4 or 5 page paper on the character transformation of one of the characters through the three books in the first person like a journal. Pick passages to read out loud. Character orchestration session where each student prepares a speech and then improvises a scene as their character. We may gather the families at a birth, wedding, funeral or current event.
November 20: Thief's Journal by Jean Genet. Courage and confession in the memoir. Exercises to find and acknowledge the Shadow. Read Native American poetry.
December 4:Introductory lecture on Marcel Proust. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust. Character, Depth and Memory. Assignment Due: 3-6 page memoir of dreams and memories in one room where narrator/self meets monster of the unconscious.
December 11: Submit revised versions of five assignments on Cross-cultural, Descriptions, Characters in Conflict, Character Transformation, and Character (Shadow), Depth and Memory. 10 points for each assignment.
For Writing Workshop II Students: You can make up attendance in the Literature class. Logic and other lectures, as well as Course Objectives, Requirements and Grading can be found here.
The Breakdown for the semester will depend on student needs to fulfill the requirements of writing a 5-8 page midterm and a 15-20 page research paper with a 3 page bibliography. In addition, students must submit 2-3 pages of free writing every week in any genre on any topic. Research topics must be approved by the third week and should revolve around Relationship theme--cross-cultural, marriage and education-- unless there is a strong commitment to another area. You are still encouraged to take an angle on this field that helps you with your major. For example, exploring marriage from the health science perspective, business from the cross-cultural, humanities from the educational point of view. I will announce specific topics in the listserv and below in a breakdown. You choose your own bibliography but you can use any of the books in the lit class, Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Lost,Taming of the Shrew and Midsummer Night's Dream, and the Critical Thinking and Communication to help you with the argumentative portion of your work.
Grading is 40% weekly papers and participation, 30% midterm, and 40% final.